Nelson Piquet took a step back in time at the Brazilian Grand Prix meeting when he had a run in a Brabham BT49 to mark the 30th anniversary of his first World Championship.
Not usually known as the sentimental type, Piquet was also reunited with many key members of his team, and acknowledged that he had found the occasion more emotional than expected.
Piquet has always turned down invitations to sample historic cars – he and Kimi Räikkönen were the only living World Champions to miss the 60th anniversary celebrations in Bahrain in 2010 – but a personal request from Bernie Ecclestone, and the chance to drive in front of family members, persuaded him to change his mind.
The 59-year-old had not sat in a Formula 1 car since he finished fourth in his last Grand Prix at Adelaide in 1991 with Benetton, and aside from some outings for fun in Brazil in his son’s F3 car, had not driven a pukka single-seater since the 1993 Indianapolis 500. His last race was the 2006 Interlagos 1000 Miles, where he shared victory in an Aston Martin with Nelson Jr.
Piquet first raced Gordon Murray’s BT49 in Montréal at the end of 1979, after Ecclestone decided to abandon Alfa Romeo power and return to the Cosworth DFV. In 1980 Nelson took three victories with the car and finished second to Alan Jones in the World Championship.
He scored three further successes in 1981, clinching the title at the Las Vegas finale. While the new BMW-powered BT50 was being revamped he also used the BT49 in two races in early 1982, losing victory in Rio because of the water-cooled brakes affair.
The car he sampled at Interlagos is owned by Ecclestone and raced regularly by Joaquin Folch. Piquet had two brief sessions, one early on Sunday morning to get a feel for the car, and another shortly before the Grand Prix.
Nelson Jr and other family members watched from the pitwall, while former Brabham men Charlie Whiting, Herbie Blash, Nigel de Strayter and Alan Woollard (above) – all of whom still work in F1 either for the FIA or Formula One Management – went along to wish their former driver well.
Always known for his questionable sense of humour, Piquet taunted the otherwise appreciative São Paulo crowd by waving the flag of the city’s deadly soccer rivals, Rio’s Vasco da Gama…
“It’s not for me, it’s more sentimental for the family, for the kids,” Piquet told Motor Sport. “They didn’t see this before. It was 30 years ago I drove this car, and now they’ve seen me drive Formula 1. It’s a little bit good for that.
“I’ve been working a lot, and I have no time for things like this. But when Bernie suggested the idea, here in Brazil, I thought for me it would be a pleasure.
“It feels quick for me! I had not expected it to be so quick. The car is not the same, because it had sliding skirts and a lot more downforce, and this has less downforce. But everything came back to me, it felt normal, no problem. For me, it was a very good thing.”
Piquet insisted, however, that the outing had not reignited his passion for racing: “No, not at all. I did some F3 races to promote Brasilia, I did Le Mans twice, I did the 1000kms here. My time has already passed, and I have no wish for that.”
Nelson Jr is carrying on the family tradition in NASCAR truck racing. “He had a talent to do well in F1, and he was learning,” said Piquet. “After all the shit happened, he decided to go to NASCAR, and he likes it very much.”